Friday, April 28, 2006

The Real Star-Spangled Banner

If anyone needed an example of how little Hispanic immigrants understand about our culture, all you have to do is look at the controversy over the Spanish translation of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which a number of Latin artists have produced, called "Nuestro Himno." President Bush has rightly declared that the National Anthem should be sung in English, a language he knows pretty well. The recording is the brainchild of British music producer Adam Kidron, who would no doubt be in very hot water with Her Majesty if he translated "God Save the Queen" into Spanish, which is probably why he decided to butt into our affairs. Although I have not actually heard the recording, I was shocked when I heard that this version has a second verse. I don't believe the English version has a second verse and if it does I don't think anyone knows what it is. I am also curious to know how they were able to translate a song when no one is really sure what the lyrics are. I believe that Francis Scott Key wrote them in the middle of a battle (with the British, wouldn't you know) and that they got lost in the chaos.

One of the things that is unique about our National Anthem, and what separates it from other anthems, is that anyone is free to sing or hear any lyrics they want, while in most other countries the government tells them what the words are supposed to be. It's clear that the producers of "Nuestro Himno" didn't realize that you can't translate lyrics that people make up as they go along. Below is an example of what real Americans actually sing when they sing the National Anthem (which I have painstakingly culled from various Internet lyrics sites, or as they say at Harvard, "internalized"). As you can see the homespun version of the National Anthem, which invokes a number of American cultural touchstones, already includes a shout-out to the Hispanic community so an entirely Spanish version seems superfluous. Frankly, I don't see how it's possible to translate this moving song and do it justice:

The (Real) Star-Spangled Banner

Jose, can you sing by the donzerly night
What so proudly we inhaled as the twilight's blasphemy

Who brought stripes and fried stars through the peril, let's fight.

Oh, the ramrods we washed were so gallantly screaming.

And the Rockettes red hair, love bombs burst in mid-air.

Babe Ruth through the night that our flag was still there

Jose those stars that pale the American way

Or the lamb of the free and the home of the Braves.


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9 comments:

BenMerc said...

Balderdash! You used the "Jose" line...how do you stoop so low sir for paltry amusement. Also, I must completley disagree with your contention of English being Mr. Bush's first language...certainly a matter of opinion.

Anonymous said...

Read the whole blog Ben . . . you might like.

Peace.

BenMerc said...

It's a 360 of jest...

donna said...

I say we give the whole damned song back to the british bar we stole it from. It's too hard for most people to sing anyway, and sounds better sung by drunken Brits.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Swift, I was just wondering if you had a chance to see Steven Colbert at the white house correspondents dinner. And if you had, what do you think? Would you have the courage to do what he did? just curious. What steven did was nothing short of brilliant and deserves much credit.

teacher dude said...

I think the UN has just started a competition to figure out what Bush's mother tongue actually is.

I go with Latvian, myself.

Jon Swift said...

To Anonymous 1: Thank you for your support, but Ben is an old friend of this blog and he has very high standards, which I do my best to meet.

To Anonymous 2: I agree that it took a lot of courage for Mr. Colbert to attack the liberal media to their faces when he was their guest. I thought some of what he said was very funny and of course I supported all of the kind things he had to say about the President. I've always tried to be very polite but state my beliefs truthfully. I hope I would be able to find a way to be both truthful and polite. But it's one thing to state one's convictions in a blog and quite another thing to do so when someone is serving you a meal and you aren't accompanied by a food taster. So I'm not sure that I can answer your question but I do appreciate your asking it.

Barbara R. said...

Mr. Swift. I deplore the lack of research which your entry about the national anthem displays. Francis Scott Key wrote the poem, with the tune in mind, according to information at nps.gov regarding Fort McHenry (the site of the battle he witnessed during the War of 1812). The entire poem and its tune together form the national anthem by Congressional decree, as of 1931, signed into law by Herbert Hoover. There are 4 verses which tell the story, even if only the first is commonly performed -in public-. Though many Americans do not know by heart all four stanzas, it is unwise to assume nobody does. The lyrics as they have been performed, often very poorly, as your references indicate, do not constitute general acceptance by the whole of the American populace, as witness their extreme upset ending up with bills sent to Congress, attempting to delineate how it may be performed in public (which were defeated, by the way). Therefore, you should take more care in your postings, and check a bit deeper. Okay? Thanks.

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